House Bill to Watch

There’s been some concern about the powers written into HR 875, a bill introduced in the House by Rosa DeLauro. It stated purpose is to “to protect the public health by preventing food-borne illness, ensuring the safety of food, improving research on contaminants leading to food-borne illness, and improving security of food from intentional contamination, and for other purposes.”

There are many elements of the bill of concern to supporters of Slow Food. And if you subscribe to food-related email lists, you’ve probably been getting emails about it describing its dire effects – there have been rumors that it would outlaw organic farming or backyard gardening, or that it would require new regulations on farmers’ markets or direct sales.

As it turns out, some of those threats are exaggerated or even made up. Food & Water Watch, a well-respected watchdog group, has written an analysis showing that some of the scary statements about the bill are myths.The environmental blog Grist published a good entry on HR 875, as well. And the bill’s odds of passing aren’t great.

However, what’s left in the bill is still nothing to look fondly on. It’s mainly a set of measures meant to react to the problems inherent in an industrialized food system – not create new alternatives to that system. And it’s only one of a few other bills currently making their way through the House approval process (like HR 814, which contains the NAIS animal ID progam).

While many food advocates think the approach in these bills is the wrong one, it might be wise to honor the impulse – concern about food – while letting our representatives know about the potentially negative consequences to the legislation. Food and Water Watch makes a wise recommendation:

There is plenty of evidence that one-size-fits-all regulation only tends to work for one size of agriculture – the largest industrialized operations. That’s why it is important to let members of Congress know how food safety proposals will impact the conservation, organic, and sustainable practices that make diversified, organic, and direct market producers different from agribusiness. And the work doesn’t stop there – if Congress passes any of these bills, the FDA will have to develop rules and regulations to implement the law, a process that we can’t afford to ignore.

But simply shooting down any attempt to fix our broken food safety system is not an approach that works for consumers, who are faced with a food supply that is putting them at risk and regulators who lack the authority to do much about it.

The project we take on in reforming America’s food system is a big and complicated one. As we go forward, we’ll be faced with many opportunities to take positions on legislation and be in contact with our representatives. It’ll be important not only to react – to let Congress know when it’s on the wrong path – but also to work with our Congresspeople to let them know what it is we’re looking for. Yes, the industrialized food system is under-regulated and puts more people in danger than should be the case. But the way to solve that should not be to unfairly burden small farms and organic growers with regulations that threaten to put them out of business – especially when they’re not the source of the problem. We need to help our representatives understand the differences between industrialized and sustainable farming and food production practices. W’re in a collaborative process of citizenship – of educating ourselves and our representatives while we try to craft a new food policy, together.

This hasn’t been the first, and won’t be the last of many pieces of legislation we’ll need to look carefully at in the coming years. Now is a good time to begin to develop our skills in reading and understanding the legislation and seeking sources of analysis that we can trust. It’s also important to be sure we’re responding to facts, not exaggerations or misunderstandings of legislation. But regardless of whether everything is accurately represented to us when we first learn about it, it’s still a great time to open up the conversation with legislators. Once you have the facts, and know your opinion on HR 875 or HR 814, why not send an email or make a phone call to your representative today? Introduce yourself and say hello. We’re going to need to know each other well.

–Michelle Moon
[This is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Slow Food Seacoast, its members, sponsors, or partners.]